Unique Workshop Helps Unlearn Individualism of Neoliberal Art Education

With an aim to reframe the process of “neoliberal” art education, the Kochi Biennale Foundation is hosting a series of workshops that help art professionals, teachers, curators and students ‘unlearn’ practices that prioritises individual production above all.
Titled ‘Shift/ Work: Composing and Playing Artistic Workshops’, the unique platform organised in partnership with British Council and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop is helmed by Scotland-based art educators Neil M'ShiftWorkulholland and Jake Watts. It runs from March 22-23.
“Today, artists and art students compete to develop a private index of values to invalidate the research value of their work as a transferable contribution to knowledge. The self-centeredness of creative personal ontology encourages an apolitical and false introspection and reflection that does not develop practice or generate viable research,” Mulholland said.
Shift/Work is a collective that “composes” workshops that cause the participants to reflect upon the process of art learning communally. It supports social actors who are learners within communities of practice. Key to this is an open engagement with practice (work) as a means of both generating and transferring new knowledge (shift).
The initiative introduces basic principles of workshop design and composition that facilitate collective artistic production, develop artistic learning ‘on-the-fly’, embraces de-schooling, improvisation and amateurism, encourage artistic practices that cannot be held, observed or enacted without taking risks or experiencing consequences.
“We started doing these workshops six years ago. One can see them as a participatory event or performance. Some people just participate and that is the end of it, while others try to adapt and practice new techniques. These workshops really try to find the soft practices one has,” said Watts, who doesn’t view himself and Mulholland as facilitators separate from the process.
Both they and the participants are, instead, “performers” with their own self-defined roles in the learning experiments that arise from a set of “provocations and propositions” that cause the participants to reflect on the process themselves. They can then use similar systems and processes in workshops of their own design adapted to the needs of the group.
“We are looking to integrate instead of individualise. In theory, artistic learning is open-ended, free and always expanding and flexible. The reality is that for artists, there is little time to learn from and work with their peers. The workshops are an opportunity to make meaningful use of time and keep the learning simple so someone take the idea and run with it,” Mulholland said.
This in turn will help artists put together workshops based on their practices using “time as part of the design process rather than a constraint”. An example of the adaptive nature o
f the initiative is the session titled ‘Speculations’, which helps the participants to develop, learn and apply speculative artistic research methods.
“Speculative processes encourage shared risk-taking by artists. This workshop was collectively composed by a group of artists and designers at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop earlier this month specifically to be play-tested in Kochi,” Watts said.

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